NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Arwa Ibrahim had just returned with her family from a vacation in Jordan on Aug. 15. The Rutgers University sophomore had transferred flights in Dubai, and then, 14 hours later, arrived in at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, N.Y.
She said she was excited to get home and rest.
But that plan was interrupted when Ibrahim, her sister, brother and mother were pulled aside by a man behind the desk at customs and forced to relinquish their passports.
The flight took place after the foiled airline-bombing plot in Britain, so passengers had not been allowed to bring food or drinks on the plane.
Ibrahim said she tried not to jump to conclusions, and she suspected she and her family would be subjected to questions for a few minutes. Instead, her family was held in detention for six hours, without food or water, in a small section of the baggage-claim area, she said.
Ibrahim said 20 seats were available for the 200 people she saw detained with her and her family. All, she said, were of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent. Upon noticing this, Ibrahim said, “It became very obvious what was happening.” She said she suspected racial profiling.
Ibrahim said she feels the way she was treated was, “Not only wrong, but illegal.”
Nor were the officials responsible for their detention polite, she said, adding, “We weren’t respected, or treated like human beings.”
Ibrahim said security officials were angry and rude to the group of detainees, which, according to her, included children and elderly adults, many of whom had not had anything to eat or drink for hours.
When detainees asked for food or water, she said, they were told it is not the job of the government to provide it.
Each member of the Ibrahim family was interviewed separately when their turn for questioning came.
Ibrahim said she was asked questions that seemed routine — where she was coming from, what she did on her vacation — and questions she said seemed unnecessarily probing, such as what she is majoring in and where she works.
Ibrahim’s older sister Sumia, also a Rutgers sophomore, was asked whether she thought Iraq was better off since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Ibrahim family emigrated from Iraq to the U.S. in 1992.
Ibrahim said she felt angry and humiliated at the tenor of the officials’ questions and the way she and her family were treated.
She said after having consulted lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, she learned she and her family were not legally obligated to answer many of the questions posed by security officials. . .
At a press conference held after the detention the ACLU, the Ibrahim family, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the rights groups announced they would investigate the alleged violation of the Ibrahims’ rights, and other instances of suspected racial profiling.